or perhaps a better title should be...
“How to be Brave when your child is driving you crazy…”
- I want my daughter to be strong…
- I want my daughter to be assertive…
- I want my daughter to be a fighter and stand up for herself…
But just not NOW!!!
I don’t care how many parenting books I read, how many articles I research, or how great a dad I think I might sometimes be - nothing stops or prevents power struggles and tough situations. Being armed with more tools and ideas in the DAD toolbox sure helps as well as constantly remembering what I want my parenting relationship to look like and what kind of father I want to be, but tough times still do arise.
My four-year-old daughter and I gone a few rounds lately – I won’t call her behaviour/choices “defiance”, because it may not be, nor will I call it a power struggle, because I refuse to ‘engage’ and give the struggle momentum. I want my daughter to be strong and independent but these ‘scenarios’ and the frequency are starting to alarm me.
As I reflect back on today’s episode, I am somewhat confused, exhausted, but also proud. We hit the beach early this morning, then took a lunch break away from the sun. We then used our lemonade stand money, earned yesterday, to go to a matinee of Disney’s “BRAVE”, the awesome new Pixar princess movie. After the movie, we used our left over money at Dairy Queen for ice cream treats – pretty awesome day right?
It was awesome until the going home part, when my 4 year old daughter decided, in the sweltering Dairy Queen parking lot, that she didn’t want to buckle her seatbelt and that was final. I searched her face for clues as to what was really going on, but I knew a battle/tantrum was brewing – I could feel it… this ain’t my first rodeo.
So quickly zipped through the general parent checklist of diagnosing this behaviour –
- Is she hungry? No.
- Is she thirsty? No.
- Is she simply wiped out and tired? Maybe, but she was just rocking in DQ so likely not.
I then went through her normal checklist of triggers:
- Did someone look at her the wrong way? No.
- Did she spill something on her dress? No.
- Did her brother do something first before she could? No.
- Did he open the handicapped door when it was her turn? No.
Actually her brother William was in the clear, holding my hand walking ahead of her – a great alibi. But OMG? Is that it? Did we dare walk ahead? Really? THAT equals THIS? Can’t be…
I turned off the car radio, and tried to remain calm. I kept telling myself, “I am the parent here, and I am ONLY in charge of my actions. I can always choose my reaction to any situation…” I could choose to raise my voice, force her seatbelt on, but instead I opted for an attempt at potty humour to try and diffuse the situation, but that only made it worse when her brother laughed hysterically. Her face scrunched even more into a grimace, a real grimace.
While I fought back the urge to laugh at her hilarious expression, I resorted to my normal “tried and true” approach of gentle reason and “good choices”. I explained all about safety and why seatbelts are important. No dice. This little gunslinger was set to duel.
I thought about employing the popular POLICE angle (“we don’t want to get a ticket!”) but didn’t go there – but seconds later my son did (where did he hear that before??) – except he added in jail time.
Still my daughter didn’t budge. I was starting to really get annoyed, because the car was hot and I was bothered. I tried to center myself and think – “What the &$%# is really going on here?” then I thought about Rudolf Dreikurs “4 Goals of Misbehavior” :
- Displays of inadequacy.
Well, she was certainly getting lots of attention (70% of misbehaviour is for attention), even though this was negative attention, she really didn’t care as all eyes were on her. She was definitely looking for power so perhaps I needed to give her more choices, but dang, this was pretty easy – put your seatbelt on! There is no choice. Was it an act of revenge? Maybe, we’ve been there before but unlikely in this scenario. Was it a display of inadequacy? No not really, this time she was not feeling helpless or discouraged because she couldn’t buckle herself in…
And so the dance continued. Now 5 minutes of my life has been dedicated to this episode. Because I had decided that this was a hill I am willing to die on, I dug in. We need to have that seatbelt on to be safe. Believe me, I was ready to HULK on this situation but didn’t let it show. I did calmly use a “When you do this, I feel this” sentence as I explained that I was getting frustrated was close to using my angry voice… yuck, a threat, but what can I guy do?
However, I do not like creating WIN=LOSE scenarios. I do not want to ‘WIN’ and impose my will because then she loses. And so I waited. Thankfully my son remained quiet as he too could sense trouble brewing at the hen-house. Because we were just headed home, we had time so I waited until the air became less combative. I took a POWER PAUSE until we both cooled down.
I waited until I could collect her eyes again. After about 30 seconds of silence, she turned her hilarious/angry gaze from the window to me. I sensed her eyes soften ever so slightly, and so I pounced. I calmly and firmly said, “Jack, we need to get going now, please out your seatbelt on…” I wanted to give her one more chance to do the right thing. Like a fighter with only one punch left, she defiantly told me that she didn’t want my HELP to put her seatbelt on, she could do it HERSELF! And she did, I said nothing, and we drove off.
After tough episodes, I like to open up the “DAD schematics” and debriefed the situation. What could I have done differently? What would Bill Cosby have done? Let’s look at the facts… Perhaps she was just tuckered out and cranky. Perhaps it was too much activity for one little girl on the hottest day of the year. Perhaps she didn’t feel like she had many choices today as the day was all planned and she just had to follow (she didn’t even get to make her normal choice of bathing suit). Perhaps she really was hungry -- there are hundreds of ways to look at it.
On the plus side, she did eventually make the right choice. I did not have to BRIBE her to get to that choice. I don’t think bribes and rewards accomplish anything in the long term – unless, you, as the parent, want to become a trained puppy (if I do that, what do I get dad?) Rewards are a very dangerous road to go down as the price will keep going up and up.
But most importantly to me and ‘our’ relationship, I do not have to apologize for going bananas, yelling, and forcing her into the seatbelt and threatening her with a scary voice to NOT UNBUCKLE THAT SEATBELT!!!!
I think the best indicator on the results of MY choices was how the rest of the day went. We stopped for a swim in the lake again, played out our favourite parts of the princess movie, and had a great tickle fight before extra stories at bed time.
She actually fell asleep on her bed in the crook of my arm tonight – a Hollywood ending. So I guess all is well… until the next episode… I hope I will be BRAVE.